Space4: The Houghton-le-Spring project that’s changing lives
Written by Kayleigh Beth Fraser on 9th November 2022
A community project supporting local people is having a positive impact on its users’ lives.
Space4, founded in Houghton-le-Spring, aims to support the people of the community with advice, social opportunities and necessities like food.
Established in 2014, it offers daily drop-in services, runs a food bank and organises weekly events for the community.
Headed by operations manager Daniel Alcock from Hetton-le-Hole, Space4 works with volunteers to provide a critical service to those who need it most.
He said: “We worked in partnership with the National Lottery to come up with three goals – to create places where the community can flourish, to creatively address food poverty and to challenge injustices we see across Houghton-le-Spring.”
He added: “We are known in the community. We’re a stake in the ground, people come to us.”
Recent statistics have shown that 600 people use Space4’s services every month.
And with around 12,000 people in Houghton parish, it means one in twenty people use Space4.
One of the project’s biggest services is a food store that allows people to choose their own food, rather than adopting a traditional parcel-based system.
And Daniel says it’s one of his biggest achievements as operations manager.
He said: “We want to give people agency – it’s a ‘pay what you can, pay what you feel’ service.
“The dignity in that is second to none. The agency, the normality, it’s beautiful.”
But how would the community cope if these immensely impactful services were taken away?
Daniel said: “If Space4 was rubbed off the map, I’m not sure where people would get the support we are providing. I don’t know who would fill the gap.”
He added: “Back in the 1970s, you didn’t visit a food bank, you’d ask your neighbour for a cup of sugar. But as community has dissolved, projects like ours become more precious.”
Running the project alongside Daniel is Jade Turnbull-Mason, who went from using the service herself to becoming a permanent staff member.
She believes that Space4 has changed her for the better as a person.
She said: “It’s the growth and how much I’ve flourished here. From coming in as a volunteer, too scared to go to work and not feeling like I was myself anymore, now I’ve changed to an even bigger job and I’m just growing constantly.”
Jade’s work spans the entirety of Space4, helping to organise drop in sessions, managing the food store at Kepier Hall and running events for families during school holidays.
She said: “We just want people to be the best version of themselves. They are who they are, and we want to give them an opportunity to be themselves and flourish in our space and feel safe here to be exactly who they are.”
Jade added: “If we can’t help them, who can we refer them to to get that help? This room of people never would have known each other. They didn’t know each other before today and they’ve created this family and this space.”
Alongside staff members, the project benefits greatly from a dedicated group of volunteers.
Kim Simpson, 32, from Houghton, is a former care worker who now volunteers at Space4.
She believes the range of services offered has grown, along with the amount of people taking part in sessions.
She said: “We’re a lot busier in all aspects, really. We see loads of new faces now so that’s nice. More and more people are finding out about us.”
With all of this support and hard work comes positive outcomes.
Kim shared an experience she remembers while volunteering at the project.
She said: “There was one lady, she had a little boy. She was learning little bits of English, then she was really good, she came for two and a half years. So her little boy had birthdays in here with a birthday cake and we’d all sing Happy Birthday.”
But this is just one of hundreds of positive experiences people have regularly using Space4.
One user, Michael Harrison, 36, from Fatfield in Washington, has been travelling to Houghton to use the services for nearly five years.
Calling Space4 his “family”, Michael said: “It’s like a second home really, a second family.”
Chatting about his favourite memories at Space4, he spoke about how much he values the project’s support on Christmas Day.
He said: “They do a Christmas meal at Kepier Hall on Christmas Day for people who are on their own. Me and my mam got picked up and came over. It was great. We had a lovely dinner and we spent it with other people who came on their own.”
But even in trying times like during Covid-19, Space4 still managed to reach Michael and provided him with critical support.
He said: “It was horrible. I was stuck in the house all day by myself but it was great that they still had Zoom lessons on. At least four of us would still be on the Zoom every day – it kept me going during lockdown.”
In the future, Space4 is aiming to launch a community café – and to ultimately stick around to support the people of Houghton-le-Spring for a long time.
If you’d like to volunteer for Space4 or find out more, visit their Facebook page here.